Q&A with Tiphanie Doucet: “Work your ass off and stay in the game. Don’t give up.”

If you live in the Lower East Side, you have probably seen Tiphanie Doucet. She can often be found busking on the Second Avenue subway platform performing original songs with her lovely, angelic voice. When she’s not busking, Tiphanie works full time as a professional singer and performs several nights a week at various cafes, bars, and events around the city and New Jersey.

But Tiphanie wasn’t always a singer/songwriter. In her native France, she was a well-known actress and dancer and played a main character on the Glee-like show, “Chante!” A few years ago, she moved to the states to further pursue her performing career and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Their two year program offered a bi-coastal option so Tiphanie studied one year in LA and one in New York. After graduation in 2012, she stayed in the city and began auditioning regularly. She was excited to be cast in “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Fireside Theater in Wisconsin.

While in rural Wisconsin for several months with three days off each week, Tiphanie was desperate to find a creative way to fill all of her free time. That’s when she picked up a guitar and never looked back. She began playing every day and started writing her own music and lyrics. With the help of famed producer Simone Felice and David Baron, Tiphanie released her first album, “Under my Sun,” this past Summer. I spoke with Tiphanie about her journey to songwriting, where she sees herself in five years, and her inspiring work-ethic that allows her to live her dream.

When did you first come to the US?

In 2008, I went to LA with my then boyfriend. He was a guitar player, so we did a big trip through Nashville, Memphis, and Florida. Then he wanted to go to the Musicians Institute in LA, which at that time it was very popular for guitarists. As a visitor, you could study for a three month quarter, so we both enrolled. He did the guitar program and I did the vocal program and it was amazing. I learned so much. At that time I was still a dancer and actor that sometimes sang, so I didn’t have a lot of technique but in those three months I learned a lot. My singing level became better and I loved the energy. Then I did some research on schools and found the American Musical and Dramatic Academy  and I auditioned. My boyfriend and I went back to France but a couple of months later, AMDA called and said “we would like to give you the Merritt Scholarship so you can come study.” So I had to choose and thought “should I just start my whole life over or stay in France?” And honestly, I didn’t want to stay in France after those three months in the US.

What brought you to to New York?

Basically my school in LA offered a two year program and I was able to do one year in LA and one year in New York. When I arrived in New York, I didn’t like it at first. I am from Paris and was not missing it, and when I came to New York it felt like Paris. After I graduated from AMDA, I started auditioning and started getting getting busy with work so I thought it would be better to stay here and get my visa.

How did you transition from acting and dancing into singing and songwriting?

It was when I was in “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Fireside Theater in Wisconsin. We had seven shows a week but they were all packed together in four days. So we had three days off and there was nothing to do there. There was maybe one gym and one restaurant. I had played guitar before but stopped because it was hard to keep it up, I was so busy. But I remember when I got to Wisconsin and realized how much time I would have I thought “I should’ve brought my guitar!” There were two little locals girls in the cast who said they would bring their guitar from home. So one day they show up with this beautiful black guitar and they told me I could borrow it. So that’s how I started writing music and playing guitar everyday.

I wrote my first EP there that I later went to France to record it with my ex-boyfriend. It’s funny the pop cover thing I do now for a living, it actually started with those two little girls. Remember that song “Call Me Maybe?” I loved that song and we played it all the time. The last day of the show, I decided to play an acoustic version with the two girls and we played it in front of all our cast and director as a surprise. It’s actually on YouTube and they were such good singers. It’s just funny because you can tell I can’t play that well but it was the first taste of what I would go on to do full time now. 

When I was younger I would write stories but then when I became a dancer and actress and was busy with that and I stopped creating. But it eventually came back later through songwriting,

Which singer/songwriters inspire you?

I remember when I first started writing songs, I was listening to a lot of American artists and discovered a lot of people on Pandora. I discovered Tristan Prettyman,  Feist, Peter Bradley Adams, Joshua Radin. And I used to listen  older artists like Joni Mitchell or James Taylor but the stuff I was discovering was more modern. I like songs that are very simple and heartfelt with airy voices. And I keep discovering new things. I like Julien Baker, Sufjan Stevens, the Lumineers (through them I found Simone) Phoebe Bridgers, Damien Rice, Lucy Rose, and Norah Jones. I also love Ingrid Michaelson, and I listened to her a lot when I was writing my first EP. 

You now work full time as a singer?

Yes. I mostly work in Jersey City and Hoboken. I have a lot of regular places where I play. Things come and go. I do a lot of private parties and weddings. And it’s great because this is how I make money to support my music. I’ve kind of always been like that. I got my first acting gig when I was 15. I feel like I’m a good manager. I research a lot and I’m always trying to get more work. 

How did you begin busking?

I had been practicing for a show and I remember standing in my room in front of the mirror and I was like “Girl, you don’t know how to play standing.” So I thought, I don’t want to stand in my room for hours so maybe I should try to play in the subway station and make a little money too. The first time I was so scared but I’ve been fine ever since. When I started busking, people started telling me my music was awesome and it helped me become more confident.

Tell me about the album you released in August?

I had been working on songs with another producer but then I had to step back for a lot of personal reasons and I became overwhelmed. I thought “Where am i going? What am i doing to do?” So I started researching artists that I liked. I reached out to Simone Felice who produces music in the Catskills. I emailed him a French song that I had never recorded with anyone. Then the manager responded and said “We’re very, very overwhelmed but I’ll try to get him to listen and if he’s interested we’ll reach out.” So a week later he said “Simone wants to speak with you ”

Simone and I talked and told me how everything would work and invited me to come to record for two days. I would have two producers, him and David Baron. So knowing that I was going to have two days I started collecting everything. I started sending Simone lyrics and little recordings. After a week, I had a lot of things ready because I was forcing myself to sit down and polish everything. And then I found this lyric that I had written but never used and it said “let your heart dry under my sun” and I thought, “that’s cool.” I was able to write the rest of the song in ten minutes. I sent that to Simone and said “I think I have the song I want to work on first” and he said “oh yes, that’s the one.” I recorded “Under My Sun” and then picked a second song, and it was great.

When I got back after recording, I was listening to the two songs over and over again and thinking “wow this is exactly what I wanted, this is me.” I wanted to do more so I went back again and we ended up recording an album and called it “Under My Sun.” A lot of the songs were written during a breakup. The others were older songs, some that I had already recorded but wanted to redo. 

Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?

Probably touring and recording albums. Hopefully in five years, I have a big enough fan base that I can have other people helping me with my career. For example a booking agent, a label or manager. Maybe still doing some acting on the side. And honestly being on the road, you have to like it. Not everyone can do it or wants to do it, because of a marriage, a family and kids. But for me I gave up my life for this years ago and I’m happy doing this. 

What’s your favorite neighborhood in New York?

I like the West Village. When you get off at Christopher Street it’s so beautiful. And I used to hang out on the Lower East Side which I love. But I must say, I live in Jersey City and it’s really cool.

If I busk in the subway, I like the Lower East Side. I always go to the Second Avenue station because it has nice acoustics. In Jersey, I busk on the Hoboken Pier in the summer. 

What advice would you give to someone that is moving to New York for the first time?

Work your ass off and stay in the game. Don’t give up. I would say New York that has such an energy and everyone is working hard so you can’t expect things to happen if you stay in bed til 12. And save your money! New york can be expensive so be careful with your money. Save your money, save your energy, and save yourself. 

Check out Tiphanie’s website for a list of her upcoming shows and take a listen to her music on Spotify and iTunes. Enjoy the titular track, “Under my Sun,” from her first album below.

Photos by Kate Ryan

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